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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Voucher debate spreads as Florida expands access



Gov. Rick Scott recently signed into law a measure that increases the cap of Florida's corporate tax credit scholarship program to $219 million. 

The new law also opens the door for the first time for the private schools that receive the scholarships to administer the FCAT for the low-income students who use the money to transfer in.

Lawmakers who backed the legislation said the program needed more money because it had a lengthy waiting list, and that low-income families should not be denied education choices simply because of their economic situation. Adding the FCAT choice, they said, would create a way for the private schools to compare their academic results to those of the schools that their transferring students left.

The debate was charged. Opponents accused the voucher backers of taking money away from public schools. They asked why donors couldn't get tax credits for giving money to the traditional school system too. They even attacked the idea of letting the private schools offer the FCAT, saying they want to end the high stakes test, not expand it.

Similar debates are happening all over the country, the AP reports.

Vouchers and tax credit scholarships are rejoining the education "reform" debate that lately has focused on such issues as school grading, charter schools, online school and the parent trigger. From the AP story:

In Louisiana, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal won a victory Thursday with passage of legislation that expands statewide a voucher program in New Orleans as part of broad changes to the state’s education system.

Virginia lawmakers recently passed a bill backed by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell allowing a tax credit for contributions to private school scholarship programs, and Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill expanding a similar program. Creating or expanding voucher or certain scholarship programs has been debated in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Ohio, New Jersey and elsewhere.

But school choice supporters have faced roadblocks, too.

Recently, in Arizona, GOP Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have expanded a law passed last year that created education savings accounts for parents of students with disabilities; the money could cover expenses such a private schooling, virtual programs or future college costs.

We still see one of the biggest choices in education as where a family chooses to live. Move into a home assigned to respected schools and you go there, no questions asked. But for families that don't have housing options, that's not really on the table. They get what they get. And if they try to use district choice programs, they are increasingly being denied as schools deal with class size requirements and limited classroom space.

Vouchers provide one more way for parents to get their children into a school that suits their education needs. But at what cost?

With school districts facing another year of budget cuts, they're loathe to let go of more per-student funding as children head to charters, use McKay scholarships, and take advantage of the tax credit scholarships. Less money means even less ability to create the best programs for the children who remain.

Sometimes, it seems as if there are two different discussions going on here, each with some merit. Can this debate ever be resolved? Your thoughts? 

[Last modified: Monday, April 9, 2012 2:53pm]


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